They arrive torsos ripped down the middle, decapitated; fingers, hands, and toes severed. Concepcion "Connie" Rivero, works on them, does whatever she can. Returns them to loving arms.
The handmade sign outside her Mexican folkloric gift shop says, "Reparamos y Vestimos Niños Dioses." We repair and dress Christ childs. Rivero is the "doctora" and she's putting in a lot of hours until February 2nd.
These ceramic or plaster niños Dios are the centerpieces of "nacimientos," the nativity scenes put up in many Catholic, Latin American households for Christmas. Spanish-speaking immigrants in the U.S. carry on the tradition. The niño Dios is brought out on December 24th and kept out until February. There's ritual prayer, singing, and parties in its honor until then. It becomes a part of the family. Niño also means son. When I talked to Rivero the week before Christmas she had a backlog of about 60 dolls. Some a few centimeters long, others larger than a newborn.
The main reason they end up in Rivero's care is kids who play with them as if they were plastic dolls. One lady, Rivero said, was taking care of a niño Dios - she was its madrina, godmother, caretaker. She took it to mass and as she was getting in the car with it a wind pushed the door closed and decapitated the poor doll. Grief stricken, she brought it to Rivero at this baby Jesus hospital in Lynwood's Plaza Mexico shopping center.
This is the shopping center of remembering and forgetting. Rivero's shop is just to the left of a large store façade that's a reproduction of a Mexican colonial church. Mexico's Independence monument is reproduced in 1/3 scale at the entrance to the shopping center. This is Mexico. This is not Mexico
Most of the niños Dios are pink-peach skinned, a couple are morenitos, the color of mocha coffee. Some have blue eyes, others have brown irises. The eyelashes on some, Rivero believes, are made out of rabbit fur. Rivero embraced the nacimiento tradition after visiting Mexico. She's born and raised in Cuba and has lived in California for 23 years.
Most of these niños are from the old country. Some are here because the trip to the United States was too treacherous.
Jose Jaime Velazquez came in to check up on his family's niño Dios. On its way to el norte from Puebla the doll's finger broke off and it got scrapes over several parts of its body. It's not proper to throw away the image of a niño Dios, Velazquez said, and that's why he's here to get fixed.
It'll be done soon, a store employee tells him. Connie Rivero has her hands full. So full, she said, that she hasn't had time to fix her own broken baby Jesus.
Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.